Encore Exploration

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Dear Lord,

Here I am half way through the wedding feast and I am to be found out to have ordered too little wine for the festivities?

What kind of groom am I to let my bride down and to spoil the celebration for my family and friends?

And Lord, you are an honored guest so how can I trouble you with such a frivolous problem?

I am not worthy, yet, please be merciful. Fill the six stone water jars to the brim cleaning my marriage in the ceremonials waters of your death and transforming the second half of the festivities into that which only the choicest blood wine can provide.

 

The Gospel of Saint John Chapter 2, verses 1-11

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Dear Lord,

Here I am half way through the wedding feast and I am to be found out to have ordered too little wine for the festivities?

What kind of groom am I to let my bride down and to spoil the celebration for my family and friends?

And Lord, you are an honored guest so how can I trouble you with such a frivolous problem?

I am not worthy, yet, please be merciful. Fill the six stone water jars to the brim cleaning my marriage in the ceremonials waters of your death and transforming the second half of the festivities into that which only the choicest blood wine can provide.

 

The Gospel of Saint John Chapter 2, verses 1-11

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Celebrating a Friend’s Life

It wasn’t really an Italian restaurant. It was only a common Chili’s in north Houston. Still, it served splendidly for the seven of us during our rough and ready reunion following the grave-side funeral of our friend, Darren. Though most of us had occasionally bumped into one of the others, it had been twenty-five years since a group get-together of this size. Sadly, it was the loss of a dear friend and very talented musician that had brought us together this day.

DJ at Darren's Funeral Most of the group lived in Houston but I had driven down that morning from Austin. I had contacted Mike the day before to see if he wanted to drive down with me. He, in turn, contacted Steve who I had not seen since high school. Mike had to make a trip to Brenham that night and we were to pick him up on our way to Houston the next morning. So it was that Steve and I were casually cruising east on 290 as surprised by the spectacular sunrise as we were about the stories we were sharing with each other.

By the time we made Brenham to meet Mike, Steve had discovered that my van was not optimal for music and a decision was reached to carry on our voyage in Mike’s vehicle. Despite this, we did not really listen to much music on the way there. Between adding Mike to our reminiscing and Mike’s recurring incoming cell phone calls, there wasn’t much space left for the music.

In catching up with these old friends from my days as a Drama Jock at Dulles High School, it was apropos to acknowledge the masks of comedy and tragedy in our lives but I was saddened a bit by the quantity and injury of tragedy in lives once marked much more by comedy. One song that did make it through the barrage of our briefing each other about our past was Edwin McCain’s – Go be young, go be free. Follow your heart where it leads you…” and at this point, Mike turned it up and said, “this is the line I tell my kids” – “…Don’t end up like me.”

We made a pit stop just before the cemetery to prep ourselves. While there, I was lost in this thought that had been tumbling Darren Rossthrough my head since I’d heard about Darren’s death. He was an amazing piano player that seemed to me to always play two or three times more keys than anyone else would have played on a given piece of music. His playing was rich and full and looked as effortless as breathing or blinking your eye – and in that much time, he would have perfectly played dozens of keys. It seemed magical and Darren seemed to me to experience a joy that was foreign and elusive to me in that time of my life.

I was thinking how every life we meet and every interaction was like a note in a personalized piece of music that made up the song of our life. We have a moment, maybe a millisecond for that tone before the melody moves onto the next character perhaps to never touch that note again or not until much later – in the next verse or pass through the refrain. These collections of sounds formed parts – verse, refrain, transition – to the ensemble of our lives.

So here I am today, hearing the songs of my friends, interacting with them in a common harmony that has not come up on the scales since the early part of the song. For Darren, this song really had ended and he was being called to an eternal encore. When I returned to meet the guys, I told Mike not to settle for crooning , “Don’t end up like me”. While Darren’s masterpiece here has indeed ended, we are just in the middle of the transition. Play on, dear friends, play on. And if you don’t like the sound of it, change it.

We were the first of our group to arrive at the cemetery. We signed in, met Darren’s sons, ex-wife, and sister. As more of our friends arrived, we cycled through moments of reunion, grief and celebration of life together waiting for the group exodus to the grave-side ceremony.

We stood side by side listening to the minister as sunlight and shade sauntered around us in a peaceful dance. The minister announced that Darren’s son, Ryan, would be playing a song. Ryan explained it was a song his Dad loved and thought was powerful. Then he proceeded to play an acoustic version of Peace of Mind by Boston. It was beautiful and perfect. It was very much Darren and the woman next to me, Michelle, a high school choir friend of Darren’s begin to provide soft background vocals. I could not help but join her.

And all along, I was thinking about all the catching up with everyone and how this midlife transition time was impacting everyone. And Ryan was singing, with Michelle’s soft harmony in my left ear and the gentle breeze in my right – “Lots of people out to make-believe they’re livin’ Can’t decide who they should be”

The minister was sharing some of Darren’s path to faith and I was still thinking about how things got here. I didn’t know all the details surrounding Darren’s death but I knew it was somehow tragic and not congruent with my memory of him. Ryan was singing the next song, Word of God Speak by MercyMe. I kept thinking about how to encourage the broken hearted. Michelle’s singing was bolder this time but still soft and sweet like the breeze of the air reminding me of the scripture God had led me to that morning before leaving Austin: “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power”. As Michelle and Ryan were singing “I’m finding myself in the midst of You, Beyond the music, beyond the noise”, I closed my eyes, surrendered to the cool wind as it weaved through the dancing shadow and light, and hummed along praying, “Yes, Lord, by your Spirit and your power”.

It was good to hear the minister share how Darren was finding faith and restoring relation with Ryan by joining in some of the fellowship of faith that was so important in Ryan’s life. It was sweeter still to know this later as we friends compared notes and came to understand more of the demons that Darren battled in his life. But I couldn’t contemplate that chasm during the ceremony – I was only thrilled to receive confirmation that he had come to the reality of the parting song Ryan performed – Amazing Grace. Though Ryan didn’t perform verse three, it was the one that came to mind later as I became aware of Darren’s battles – “Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; ‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far and Grace will lead me home.”

Following the service, most of us found our way to Chili’s. We compared notes from the funeral and had our own private moments of shared reflection and celebration of our fallen friend. Anne shared an insight that resonated with me. Darren was so talented that people could not easily see beyond his ability and potential to the man underneath this weight of expect
ation. That is certainly, sadly to say, my experience with this friend and I was sorry about that. It reminded me of an amazing verse of lyrics of another great Christian musician who has gone on to be with the Lord – Rich Mullins. “We are frail. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, forged in the fires of human passion, choking on the fumes of selfish rage. And with these, our hells and our heavens so few inches apart, we must be awfully small and not as strong as we think we are.” Thank you for grace, Father, for we are so in need of grace.

Having enough of tragedy, we labored to lay down that mask and return to the mask of comedy for the rest of the lunch. We discussed great memories and fun and how excited we were to see each other. We shared about others that some of us had visited occasionally and even more details and ideas around having a reunion in 2010.

Several of the Houston contingent were being pressed to return to work and we still had a trip to Austin but Paul persuaded us to drop by for a quick visit at his home. This gave us an opportunity to change into more comfortable clothes for the return trip and to observe the sizable collection of memorabilia that Paul had been putting up on our Drama Jock Facebook page which led us into another path down memory lane. But lunch and the long day were simultaneously leading us to a desire to lounge the afternoon away on Paul’s exceedingly cozy leather chairs – so we forced ourselves out of this slumber and into the car for the trip home.

We were tired as we made our way back to Brenham. We were lost in all the rolling emotions of the day and exhausted with trying to express them with our own word so now the music was a solace and a celebration. Mike gave me the controls of his IPhone and after a return to Boston’s Peace of Mind – it became clear that all three of us knew every word and note perfectly and were sharing in an amazing music healing session.

As Peace of Mind played, I thought about these old friends – who they were then and who they were now – friends but strangers – and how much of the shared tragedy discussed that day was an experience of finding the familiar turn strange in the transition of mid-life so we turned next to Billy Joel and explored, “Why were you so surprised that you never saw the stranger? Did you ever let your lover see The stranger in yourself?”

Mike asked us what we thought the best Billy Joel song was and we all simultaneously arrived at Scenes from an Italian Restaurant so that played next. As we all sang the song in unison and at the top of lungs, Mike hollered out, “We lived this!” It occurred to me that while it was amazing to get reacquainted, it was really more like developing new friends than seeing old ones – or, at least, it would be moving forward. The past was gone and closed off to us except for reminiscing. We’d have to build new relationships now if we wanted them. And all these pieces of broken life – there is no unbending the bent, pretending the wreck didn’t happen. Healing is recovery into the future. There is no going back to how it was. And we were singing “They couldn’t go back to the greasers, the best they could do was pick up their pieces”

As we closed in on Brenham, we knew we could not complete this healing celebration without honoring the Piano Man, Darren, with Billy Joel’s song by that title. Regret is not necessarily the word that expresses the characters in the song or even the tragic moments in my life or the lives of these dear friends but I think everyone had things they wished could be different. So, while some of us appeared to be pounding out strong notes at the moment and others were striking more somber chords or even hitting a long rest, we could all share an experience together sitting around Darren then and now, awestruck by his talent, astonished yet aspiring for his life and ours as well – “They sit at the bar and put bread in my jar and say, “Man, what are you doing here?”

“Sing us a song, you’re the Piano Man. Sing us a song tonight. Well, we’re all in the mood for a melody and you’ve got us feeling alright.”

train2Living in Hutto, one can’t help but experience the joy of trains – to the point that joy ceases to be the experience.  Since the town is divided by railroad tracks, encountering trains is pretty much a daily occurrence.  The audio tracks, pun intended, play their rap every quarter hour for those who live close enough.  Paul Simon recorded a song with the refrain, “Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance. Everybody thinks it’s true”.  I’m not quite sure what he meant by everybody thinks it’s true but I can assure you that whatever he meant, it is not true that everybody loves the sound of a train, even in the distance.

It was this very thought that tunneled into my mind along with the train that accompanied it at about two this morning as I was having trouble sleeping.  We are fortunate to be far enough away as to not notice the sound most of the time but lying awake in the quiet sleeping house is not one of those times. 

train1I begin to think about what nuisance these trains were as the sound of the train invaded my consciousness. There is no station here in Hutto.  They are not delivering or picking up cargo or passengers.  There is no partnership with the city.  Trains push through town bringing traffic to a halt and interrupting life with noise, yet they give nothing to the town. If you know anything about the railroad, you will know that they have huge power to do whatever they want – they are not under city, county or state jurisdiction.   There are many crossing improvements that the railroad could make for this town of 20,000 that has the same number of crossings that it did when it only had 600.  While the tide of trains through town is regular and frequent, improvements are slow to roll into town if they come at all.

Then I got to thinking that people are like this in many ways.  Unless the people we encounter become passengers on our train, provide cargo we care about or are meeting us at one of our scheduled stops, we are usually just rolling through.  In our busyness, we are moving too fast to stop, we have our schedule to keep, and I’ll be gone 500 miles when the day is done.  I think we all understand this reality and we don’t think about it much.  

Perhaps this phenomenon is a necessity of life, which by nature has a point of origin and a point of destination and the rails in between cannot help but be travelled each and every day.  Occasionally we lament just like Steve Goodman did – “Half way home, we’ll be there by morning.… And all the towns and people seem to fade into a bad dream.…this train’s got the disappearing railroad blues”.  We come to these places in the night and wonder about the switches in the tracks we didn’t take, knowing we are half way home and watching the rail fade away seemingly faster with each hour heading down to the sea and the morning light.  Perhaps, we don’t think about it much because we just can’t bear it and we’re maybe a little scared of that final termination point. So we clear our minds and drop into the tunnel of sleep that emerges into bright daylight, the stoking up of engines, and a new day’s journey where the noise and heat of the rails overcome those quiet evening thoughts.

We certainly cannot be God and know each and every passenger, visit every town, haul all cargo. We must choose.  In some sense, we don’t even really do that.  We are more like passengers riding this rail for the first time knowing very little about where the rail will take us or what the odyssey will bring.  Yet most of us act as if we are in complete control and like we own the railroad. We’d be wise to talk to those who had gone before us and even more so to the conductor who is always singing his song for us again hoping we will refrain from our assumed control of his job and would instead enjoy the ride and the interactions that come to us.

Perhaps our difficulty stems from our preoccupation with trying to run the railroad of our life when we are really only passengers.  Jesus clearly had a purpose and was focused on it yet every interaction along the path was savored and given attention.  He said things like – I only do what my Father tells me to do. So, if he found that God had put him alone at a well with a Samaritan woman – he demonstrated God’s love to her. If the Pharisees setup a trap for him by exploiting an adulterous woman, he loved them both enough to rescue them from the error of their ways without condemning either of them for their treachery. If a Centurion’s daughter needed healing, he would heal her while encouraging this “heathen” that he was actually a man of faith and simultaneously helping the assumed faithful realize their need for His faith.

If anyone’s track of life was well predicted, it was our Lord’s.  There are over 300 prophecies concerning Jesus that he fulfilled.  He was clearly aware of these too for he told men such as John the Baptist to perform actions they thought unnecessary for Jesus – because “it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness”.  Jesus knew God’s vision for His life and was totally focused on it yet able to say in the same prayer both, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.”, and, “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.”  Purpose and people always went hand-in-hand with him.

Perhaps, if we will rest from “working on the railroad…all the live-long day”, we could realize that these interactions with other passengers is our primary work.  We aren’t meant to “work on the railroad…just to pass the time away.  We are passengers with a purpose on a specific track, on a specific run, on a specific train.  We can rest in our work when we let God do his, when we avoid lamenting about those tracks and trains we can’t ride and when we instead embrace in love those he has given us as we ride the rail of our life.  Jesus was known for the way his love impacted other people and the life he lost, trusting God to raise him up.  If we will be his disciples, we will have to give up our life to make time for Jesus to impact the lives of other people through us. Faith is trusting God that is we lose our life, he will resurrect us.  This is what it is to deny ourselves daily, pick up our cross and follow Jesus.

As I wrote this, the rumble and ruckus of another train builds as it comes from the distance soon to diminish in the dark of the night on the other side of our town.  The whistle blows to warn passengers it is crossing our path and for us, these are the only interactions.  But for those riding the train, I hope there is much more as the expedition continues. 

Lord, help me to rest in the joy of being a passenger on the train you have put me on.  Keep me from wasting too much time staring out the window into the darkness or the whizzing-by world of wishful thinking. Help me trust you who knows the tracks and the course and the power of the engines of my life – that you have all that worked out and I can add nothing to it.  Help me to enjoy the freedom you’ve given me in your rest in Jesus – to enjoy the companionship of the fellow passengers you’ve given me on this unique voyage of my life.  Help me bring you glory in the awesome work of my life, living in Christ and loving and encouraging those you’ve given to me.  Dear friends, get ready, there’s a train a coming, You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board. Don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.

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train2Living in Hutto, one can’t help but experience the joy of trains – to the point that joy ceases to be the experience.  Since the town is divided by railroad tracks, encountering trains is pretty much a daily occurrence.  The audio tracks, pun intended, play their rap every quarter hour for those who live close enough.  Paul Simon recorded a song with the refrain, “Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance. Everybody thinks it’s true”.  I’m not quite sure what he meant by everybody thinks it’s true but I can assure you that whatever he meant, it is not true that everybody loves the sound of a train, even in the distance.

It was this very thought that tunneled into my mind along with the train that accompanied it at about two this morning as I was having trouble sleeping.  We are fortunate to be far enough away as to not notice the sound most of the time but lying awake in the quiet sleeping house is not one of those times. 

train1I begin to think about what nuisance these trains were as the sound of the train invaded my consciousness. There is no station here in Hutto.  They are not delivering or picking up cargo or passengers.  There is no partnership with the city.  Trains push through town bringing traffic to a halt and interrupting life with noise, yet they give nothing to the town. If you know anything about the railroad, you will know that they have huge power to do whatever they want – they are not under city, county or state jurisdiction.   There are many crossing improvements that the railroad could make for this town of 20,000 that has the same number of crossings that it did when it only had 600.  While the tide of trains through town is regular and frequent, improvements are slow to roll into town if they come at all.

Then I got to thinking that people are like this in many ways.  Unless the people we encounter become passengers on our train, provide cargo we care about or are meeting us at one of our scheduled stops, we are usually just rolling through.  In our busyness, we are moving too fast to stop, we have our schedule to keep, and I’ll be gone 500 miles when the day is done.  I think we all understand this reality and we don’t think about it much.  

Perhaps this phenomenon is a necessity of life, which by nature has a point of origin and a point of destination and the rails in between cannot help but be travelled each and every day.  Occasionally we lament just like Steve Goodman did – “Half way home, we’ll be there by morning.… And all the towns and people seem to fade into a bad dream.…this train’s got the disappearing railroad blues”.  We come to these places in the night and wonder about the switches in the tracks we didn’t take, knowing we are half way home and watching the rail fade away seemingly faster with each hour heading down to the sea and the morning light.  Perhaps, we don’t think about it much because we just can’t bear it and we’re maybe a little scared of that final termination point. So we clear our minds and drop into the tunnel of sleep that emerges into bright daylight, the stoking up of engines, and a new day’s journey where the noise and heat of the rails overcome those quiet evening thoughts.

We certainly cannot be God and know each and every passenger, visit every town, haul all cargo. We must choose.  In some sense, we don’t even really do that.  We are more like passengers riding this rail for the first time knowing very little about where the rail will take us or what the odyssey will bring.  Yet most of us act as if we are in complete control and like we own the railroad. We’d be wise to talk to those who had gone before us and even more so to the conductor who is always singing his song for us again hoping we will refrain from our assumed control of his job and would instead enjoy the ride and the interactions that come to us.

Perhaps our difficulty stems from our preoccupation with trying to run the railroad of our life when we are really only passengers.  Jesus clearly had a purpose and was focused on it yet every interaction along the path was savored and given attention.  He said things like – I only do what my Father tells me to do. So, if he found that God had put him alone at a well with a Samaritan woman – he demonstrated God’s love to her. If the Pharisees setup a trap for him by exploiting an adulterous woman, he loved them both enough to rescue them from the error of their ways without condemning either of them for their treachery. If a Centurion’s daughter needed healing, he would heal her while encouraging this “heathen” that he was actually a man of faith and simultaneously helping the assumed faithful realize their need for His faith.

If anyone’s track of life was well predicted, it was our Lord’s.  There are over 300 prophecies concerning Jesus that he fulfilled.  He was clearly aware of these too for he told men such as John the Baptist to perform actions they thought unnecessary for Jesus – because “it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness”.  Jesus knew God’s vision for His life and was totally focused on it yet able to say in the same prayer both, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.”, and, “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.”  Purpose and people always went hand-in-hand with him.

Perhaps, if we will rest from “working on the railroad…all the live-long day”, we could realize that these interactions with other passengers is our primary work.  We aren’t meant to “work on the railroad…just to pass the time away.  We are passengers with a purpose on a specific track, on a specific run, on a specific train.  We can rest in our work when we let God do his, when we avoid lamenting about those tracks and trains we can’t ride and when we instead embrace in love those he has given us as we ride the rail of our life.  Jesus was known for the way his love impacted other people and the life he lost, trusting God to raise him up.  If we will be his disciples, we will have to give up our life to make time for Jesus to impact the lives of other people through us. Faith is trusting God that is we lose our life, he will resurrect us.  This is what it is to deny ourselves daily, pick up our cross and follow Jesus.

As I wrote this, the rumble and ruckus of another train builds as it comes from the distance soon to diminish in the dark of the night on the other side of our town.  The whistle blows to warn passengers it is crossing our path and for us, these are the only interactions.  But for those riding the train, I hope there is much more as the expedition continues. 

Lord, help me to rest in the joy of being a passenger on the train you have put me on.  Keep me from wasting too much time staring out the window into the darkness or the whizzing-by world of wishful thinking. Help me trust you who knows the tracks and the course and the power of the engines of my life – that you have all that worked out and I can add nothing to it.  Help me to enjoy the freedom you’ve given me in your rest in Jesus – to enjoy the companionship of the fellow passengers you’ve given me on this unique voyage of my life.  Help me bring you glory in the awesome work of my life, living in Christ and loving and encouraging those you’ve given to me.  Dear friends, get ready, there’s a train a coming, You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board. Don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.

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One of my current interests is exploring how God works in the lives of people to move them from one place to another.   This interest has grown out of the work God has been doing in my life since 2000 – a restlessness in life that I am persuaded that God is using to prepare me for a new focus in the latter part of my life. 

For a long time, I have tried to use the lessons that I have learned in the first part of my life to define, plan and move into a new direction.  The is my normal mode of operation and has been very successful for me in the past but one of the learnings of this journey has been – what got you here will not get you to where you’re going – in fact that is a trap, a prideful archor that slows down progress.   It’s taken me awhile to learn it. 

Consequently, I have recently decided to quit focusing on defining, planning, and executing and shifted to enjoy exploring, experiencing and celebrating for awhile – trusting God to use this to guide me – removing it from my control and surrendering to only His.   This category in Viewed Mercies will be a place where I will keep up with and share my exploration.

This morning – God shared with me an article that was very interesting:

ROBERT POWELL: Is there an ‘encore’ career in your future?

 

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